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Long read: The beauty and drama of video games and their clouds

"It's a little bit hard to work out without knowing the altitude of that dragon..."

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Mr Driller Online


After several weeks of defending the besieged portcullis of casual gaming with precious little assistance from the parade of lazy mindless tat on Live Arcade, I've finally found a brave knight who can help me slay the dragon of Kneejerk Hardcore Gamers Who Are Scared Of Fun. And he's got a drill.

Mr Driller was last seen in Drill Spirits on the Nintendo DS back in 2004. That game made Tom use the words "you'll love it" and the numbers "8/10". Having been rejigged, reworked and redeployed to the 360, Mr Driller remains the sort of fast-paced puzzle gem all "casual" efforts should aspire to.

The concept, as with all great things, is dead simple. Superficially similar to Tetris, if only because you need to have a quick eye for shapes and how they'll interact when one is removed, the closest comparison would be a fusion of Boulderdash and Dig Dug. Hardly surprising, since the game began life as a continuation of Namco's underground monster-inflating classic. Mr Driller, should you care, is supposed to be the son of Dig Dug star Taizou Hori.

Tag Battle - share air with your friend without any messy 'kiss of life' excuses.

You have a drill. You have a level made up of big colourful blocks. Drill down through the blocks through levels of 100 metres each, making sure falling debris from above doesn't squash you. If four squares of the same colour collide, they'll be destroyed - giving you a score boost, but also potentially creating a landslide of blocks above or below. You have limited air for your subterranean mission, and making your way to the sporadic air tanks without drilling yourself into a corner is a large part of the gameplay.

The nasty brown squares return, blocking your path and taking several drill hits to destroy. Take this option, rather than drilling around them, and you'll immediately lose 20 per cent of your air. As brown blocks are often used to keep air tanks and other desirable items from your reach, it becomes a question of making snap decisions - risk using up more air than you'll gain, or continue downwards and hope there's an easier option somewhere below?

And, er, here are the characters. They look happy, don't they?

The instinctive response is to keep moving ever downwards, trying to out run any block avalanches and hoping for air tanks, but the best way to play is at a carefully measured clip - keeping mobile, but taking the time to stop and think about the consequences of removing certain blocks. It really hits the sweet spot between the edge of delicious panic and the rewards of making the right choice in the blink of an eye.

There have been changes from the DS to 360, though. For one thing, you can now choose from the various characters at the start - no need to unlock them. As they include faster drillers, characters with more air, a dog that can climb up two blocks rather than the standard one, and a robot that can withstand one collision with falling blocks, this opens up plenty of gameplay choices straight away.

There are also power-ups to be found inside treasure chests, and these can be used at your leisure by hitting X. Beneficial effects include complete air refills, shields and speed increases. Having the right one to hand in a pinch can be the difference between life and death.